Before there was What We Do In The Shadows – the artery-bursting-hilarious TV series – there was Wellington Paranormal, the first offshoot show from the WWDITS movie written and directed by Jemaine Clement (Flight Of The Conchords) and co-created by Taika Waititi, first screened in New Zealand in 2018 and just arrived on Sky Comedy.
Essentially Cops meets The X Files, it’s a mock-reality police procedural following a hapless pair of coppers – Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue, playing characters with their own names – as they investigate a series of supernatural and extra-terrestrial happenings around Wellington, New Zealand. They’re aided by Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) who helms their secret paranormal division in a cupboard with the most lax security regime since you changed all your passwords from “password”.
Committed Waititi fans will recognise the unassuming duo from 2014’s What We Do In The Shadows film – in which they turned up to do a welfare check on the houseful of blood suckers only to be hypnotised into not noticing all the bodies lying about everywhere like an afterparty round Patrick Bateman’s gaff.
The brilliance of WWDITS was in recognising that horror stories, films and TV shows are fundamentally funny. We snigger inwardly at the ridiculousness of all the shapeshifting, doll haunting, bile-spewing, brain-chewing craziness then belly laugh at ourselves for leaping out of our skins at the scare jumps anyway. There’s no sight on TV more hilarious than Yvette Fielding running screaming from a night vision-lit 18th century mausoleum on Most Haunted because a mouse farted in a corner, and WWDITS played perfectly on the way such reality TV shows have spotlit the hysteria of superstition and the comedy in our own inherent fears.
By adding a layer of everyday flat share to the vampire clichés, WWDITS instantly became a winning clash of the real-life and the fantastical, a rich seam of mockumentary gold that skilfully managed to satirise our most ludicrous primal folk tales without completely bursting the bubble of suspended disbelief. And Wellington Paranormal is a must-watch for WWDITS fans because it allows Clement and Waititi’s dry wit to run amok unrestricted. Rather than stay tied to the stake of one specific horror story’s tropes, the gates are flung open on all things spook-some and otherworldly, and at 30 minutes per episode, there’s never room for anything to get tired or overdone. It’s what you might have imagined Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would have done with Truth Seekers or their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy if they’d had the budget of Spaced.
The deadpan professionalism and by-the-book small-town policing approach that our hapless duo apply to every supernatural occurrence they find themselves up against only serves to make it arguably even funnier than WWDITS. They find themselves trying to ably assist a possessed teenager projectile vomiting demon puke all over a shopping centre. Parking with due care and attention while a werewolf transforms in the back seat of their cruiser. Calmly conduct exorcisms from online instructions, or trying to break up a 40-year ghost party by shutting off the stereo and asking the undead to quietly disperse.
Their methodical mindset works comic wonders: witness the scene in which, knowing that a normal dilapidated bathroom can transform into a portal to a 1970s hot-tub orgy without warning, they take turns opening and closing the door until the magic happens. And there’s a masterful moment of cutting social satire when institutional racism within the police force can’t even be broken down when the police in question are turned into zombies.
Wellington Paranormal was the first of a number of planned WWDITS offshoots – besides the TV series there’s also talk of a sequel focussing on the werewolves in the film, entitled We’re Wolves – and its success in New Zealand means there are two more series already en route to Sky Comedy, promising creatures from the deep, vigilante superhumans, sentient fatbergs and at least one haunted photocopier. And with such a perfect comedy horror formula in place, the underworld is its oyster.